Hummingbirds have become a winter staple for many Metro Vancouver backyard birders, offering a blurred flash of colour to help get them through those often dreary winter months.
But it has not always been this way. Victoria Otton, a bird enthusiast with the Burke Mountain Naturalists, has been counting feathered friends every year going back to the 1990s during the annual Audubon Christmas bird count.
“When BMN began doing Christmas Bird Counts back around 1995, who would have believed we’d ever be counting hummingbirds in the wintertime?” she recently wrote to The Tri-City News. “Yet since 2008, these birds have appeared every year on our checklists, and their numbers have been shooting up each year.”
That can be a problem in January or February: Nectar can freeze, feeders can crack and, under the snowy conditions we’ve seen this week, your little buzzing friends can buzz off or, heaven forbid, drop dead.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep your hummingbird feeders from freezing.
Literally chilling. -6 c today. She didn’t go far from the feeder. Showed up at first light and stayed later than normal stocking up. I hope the male is getting food somewhere. I may get a second feeder/warmer tomorrow so he has a spot. She is extremely territorial even chasing chickadees that stopped for a sip. #annashummingbird #hummingbird #hummingbirds
Wrap something around the feeders to keep them from freezing. You can use towels, hand warmers or a scarf, or go to the hardware store and pick up the special tape known as lagging used to keep pipes from freezing.
You can also wrap Christmas lights around the feeders, which, in addition to keeping the ice at bay and the hummingbirds fed, will add a festive glow to your feeder. (Make sure they are outdoor lights.)
Note, red lights will do double duty (in the natural world, where hummingbirds sip nectar from flowers, red indicates a rich source of food). On the other hand, avoid LED lights as they don’t give off heat and so won’t keep the feeder from freezing.
PICK UP A WINDOW FEEDER
Window feeders, which stick to a pane, absorb the heat passing through the glass, and that can keep them from freezing.
MOVE THE FEEDER
In summer, you often want to keep the feeder out of direct sunlight but, come winter, the temperature is not warm enough to allow mould growth and the added sunshine might be enough to at least slow down the freezing process during the day.
Keeping the feeder out of the wind will also help lower windchill and prevent the nectar from freezing.
To shield your feeder from snow accumulation, look for a feeder with a protective dome on top.
SWEETEN YOUR RECIPE
Most hummingbird feeders come with recipes suggesting a mixture of four parts water to one part sugar. On colder days, try bumping up the sugar content to three parts water to one part sugar. That will lower the nectar’s freezing temperature and also give the hummingbirds a little energy kick when food is scarce.
Fill ‘er up. Fun fact. Hummingbirds drink nectar using tongues that are so long that, when retracted, they coil up inside the birds’ heads, around their skulls and eyes. At its tip, the tongue divides in two and its outer edges curve inward, creating two tubes running side by side. The tubes don’t close up, so the birds can’t suck on them as if they were straws. Instead, scientists believe that the tubes are narrow enough to passively draw liquid into themselves. That process is called capillary action. They can do this up to 18 times per second. #hummingbird #hummingbirds #annashummingbird
A HEATED FEEDER?
A plug-in feeder can be pricey, and is only useful part of the year but if you love your Anna’s hummingbird and are willing to shell out, these might be for you. Also available are heating elements that connect to the bottom of a standard hummingbird feeder.
A LOW-TECH SOLUTION
Perhaps the simplest method to ensuring your backyard hummingbirds stick around through freezing weather is to simply buy a second feeder; then, you can rotate between the two so that the birds have access to an unfrozen sugary food source.
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